Monday, June 11, 2012

June 10th, 2012                     “New Family Values”                       Rev. Heather Jepsen
Mark 3:20-35
        As we move out of the season of Pentecost and back into Ordinary Time our gospel readings turn to the book of Mark.  As readers of the Scriptures know, each gospel presents a unique picture of who Jesus is.  Together, we will spend the next few months reading and studying the unique picture of Jesus that Mark presents.
          This morning’s reading finds Jesus early in his ministry.  He has been teaching folks about the kingdom of God, healing the sick, hanging out with tax collectors and sinners, and casting out demons.  He has been on the road traveling among the people; from Galilee to Capernaum, he has been on mountaintops, in wheat fields, on boats, and at the synagogue.  Needless to say, he has been busy.
          Now, Mark tells us, Jesus has gone home.  Perhaps he is seeking rest and a break from the crowds.  Unfortunately he will find neither of those things there.  Mark says that the crowd gathered so tight around him that he could not even eat.  Imagine how annoying that would be.  Now I am an introvert, and I need my alone time.  I need my down time in order to function in the world.  My home is my sanctuary, a place where I am safe to let down my hair and relax.  If you all came to my house at the same time, crowding in my windows and doors such that I couldn’t even eat my dinner, I would be pretty upset. 
          So this is where we find Jesus.  Trying to have some quiet time at home; only he can’t because the crowds are pressing in too tight on him.  The interesting thing about this scene is that Jesus doesn’t seem to mind.  He has gotten used to the crowds at this point.  So he shoves a piece of bread in his mouth and just keeps going about his mission and ministry. 
          The folks who don’t like this scene are his family.  In fact, they think that Jesus is out of his mind.  Someone who is going to hang out with all the rejects and riff-raff must be crazy they think.  Someone who is going to let all of these outsiders invade his life needs to be stopped.
          Of course, the folks in Jesus’ family are not the only ones upset by his behavior.  The church doesn’t like it either.  The scribes come down from Jerusalem to up the ante; not only is Jesus crazy, he’s possessed.  It is by the power of the devil that he is able to cast out demons. 
          Jesus response to both of these accusations is to teach in parables.  How can one who is under the power of demons cast out demons?  It doesn’t make any sense.  Satan would not rise up against himself to take down his own house.  And by the same token, it takes a stronger man to win any battle.  Jesus is clearly the stronger man as he has the power to bind up and plunder the house of Satan.
          Then Jesus speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit and of blasphemy.  He declares that he works by the power of the Holy Spirit, and those who speak against his works speak against the power of the Spirit and therefore against God.  And of course, those who speak against God and the will and ways of God are sinning.
          Jesus’ words ring true, they make sense, and yet still the scoffers are unconvinced.  The scribes will be back to tangle another day and his mother and brothers continue to try to call him back to his senses.  Jesus makes clear that he has not come to abide by the old ways of the family.  Rather, he has come to create a new family, for “whoever does the will of God is his brother and sister and mother.”
          This reading is a challenging one for modern believers.  The topic of Satan is always a bit of a bugaboo since most folks who consider themselves intellectual really don’t believe any of that stuff anymore.  And frankly, what Jesus says about family and church is a bit threatening.
          “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he did not exist.”  Now that is a line from a movie, but it has its place in our discussion this morning.  Who here really believes in the devil?  I think most of us have come to assume that folks in the ancient world were a superstitious lot who didn’t know much about science and medicine.  I think that many modern readers of the Bible come to the conclusion that when Jesus is casting out demons, he is really healing people of schizophrenia, epilepsy, and other illnesses.  Now there is a pretty good argument for that, but it doesn’t get us off the hook when it comes to the forces of evil in the world.
          Now whether or not you believe in Satan as some form of evil concentrated in a single being or person; I would argue that no one can look at the world around us and not see the forces of evil at work.  And not only that, but humanity is constantly in captivity to these evil powers in the world.
          In the commentary Feasting on the Word pastor Nibs Stoupe describes it this way:  
“The reality of Satan and Beelzebub is disturbingly clear.  They name the forces and configurations of power that capture us and cause us to hurt ourselves, to hurt others, and to hurt God.  To name a few of these, there is the power of race, which tells us to believe that one group is superior to another simply because of skin color or cultural heritage.  There is the power of patriarchy, which tells us that men should dominate women.  There is the power of materialism, which roars at us that money gives us life.  And the power of militarism – the belief that weapons and war bring us peace and security – which causes us to kill one another, often in the name of God.
I would add to his list, the power of nationalism which convinces us that America is God’s favorite country on earth.  The power of our economic system which teaches us that we too can be millionaires and that is good for everyone.  And the power of the status quo, which leads us to believe that even at the cost of our planet we cannot afford to change the our wasteful lifestyles. 
When considered this way things begin to get scary.  When we look at the world as a place of demonic power, a place that calls to us and pulls is into ways of thinking that are against God; then we begin to perhaps take our faith more seriously.  For the real forces of evil in this world are much more powerful and insidious than simple demon possession; rather they are large forces found everywhere on the TV, radio, internet, in advertising and politics.  In fact I would argue that these forces are at play in even the minute details of our lives, from the groceries we buy at the store to the clothes we choose to wear.  One may not believe in literal demons, but it is hard to argue against the power the forces of evil have in our world.
          When Jesus was engaged in a ministry of healing, a ministry of love, and a ministry of inclusiveness, these forces of evil sought to stop him.  The power of evil wanted to stand in the way of the power of God.  And really, that shouldn’t surprise us.  But what might surprise us is that the power of evil approached Jesus not in some back alley; but at home, and at church.
          It was Jesus family who sought to tell him he was wrong.  It was his family who could not stand him hanging out with prostitutes and lepers, outcasts and sinners.  So it was his family who said he was crazy and sought to stop his ministry.
          And it was Jesus’ church who sought to tell him he was wrong.  It was his church that attempted to twist the world so much that it accused him of acting under the power of evil.  It was the church that declared the work of God to be the work of the devil. 
          You see, more than anything else, it is the family of home and the family of faith that have the power to lead us into sin, because it is there that we are comfortable and familiar.  It is there, at home and church, that we build a routine; a routine which encourages us to close our eyes to the world around us and which tempts us to call the work of God the work of the devil. 
          I want to turn back to pastor Neil Stroupe here who gives a great example of this from his own life.  He writes . . .
“I grew up in the Deep South in Arkansas on the Mississippi River Delta in the 1950s and 1960s, part of that generation of white Southerners who wrestled with the civil rights movement.  I was resistant to that movement because I had been taught white supremacy and the racism that undergirds it.  I had accepted this ideology, and I had been taught it, not by mean and terrible people, but by loving and caring people such as my mother and my church leaders.  They taught it to me, not because they were evil – quite to the contrary, they were wonderful people in my life – but because they were captive to racism and had come to accept that racism was the way to find and maintain life.
As I came to hear other voices from God’s Spirit – voices that told me that racism was not God’s will – I began to be in internal conflict with my family and my community.  It was a struggle and continues to be a struggle at some points.  I began to appreciate why Jesus calls the configuration of these forces “Satan”, and I understand why he had indicated that his family [and his church] might be part of the problem.”
From Nibs example we can clearly see how the family and the church might be the ones to bind us to the forces of evil.  And it doesn’t take much imagining to make a leap from his experience with racism to other social justice issues in our world.
          At the end of this reading, Jesus reminds his family, his church, and his followers that he has come to create a new community, a new family.  The family of Jesus Christ is made up of those who speak out against the forces of evil in the world, those who come in brokenness to look for healing, and those who do the will of God.  While we may certainly find those folks in our own families and church, we must remember that we are also just as likely to find them outside the normal circles that we travel. 
          Today we will gather at the communion table.  This is a feast that stands in the face of the forces of evil because this is a table that welcomes all in a spirit of hospitality and reconciliation.  This table isn’t just open to your family and your church, its open to all who come seeking God.  And as Jesus reminds us in the gospel of Luke, “People will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.”
          This morning’s reading from Mark, challenges us to consider the roll of the family and the roll of the church in our lives.  Clearly there are forces of evil in our world and unfortunately it can be through our familiarity in family and church that we are tempted by evil.  Like the folks in this gospel reading, we are tempted to ignore the injustice of the world around us or to even call that injustice right or the way of God.  Likewise, we are tempted to call the movement of the Spirit the work of the devil when it challenges the way we think the world should be.
So, as those who consider themselves part of Jesus’ family; let us remember the values that Jesus calls us to.  The family values of our culture, our own family, our even our church, may not be the true values of Christ.  Jesus teaches new family values; values based on hospitality, love, and the kingdom of God’s justice.  Let us go out to be a voice for these new family values in our world.  Amen.

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